Are you concerned that your kid sucks at their sport or activity? Do you feel that the other kids are way better, and your child is getting left behind?
Through years of being a soccer coach, I have often heard parents express worry that their kid isn’t keeping up. I’ve often heard the same anxiety when they see other kids who are better at playing the piano, or drawing, or dancing, or singing, or doing math. I’m sure you’ve heard the same.
So many parents constantly worry about how their kid “measures up”. Most of the time, the concern is overblown.
When I look at this question with parents, we often find that the issue has little to do with the child, and everything to do with the parent’s preoccupation that their child is “keeping up” with the peer group.
It’s not hard to address these fears. If you’re worried that your child may be falling behind in their sport or activity, consider these points.
1. Whose emotions are these?
Firstly, do you know for certain that your child is falling behind? Do you get the feeling that your child feels badly about not being the most skilled in their peer group? If not, then you may be projecting.
When parents watch their child practicing an activity, it often makes them recall a bad experience that they had as a child, or it stimulates current fears and anxieties about being inadequate. As parents, we need to step back and consider our child’s experience from a neutral perspective. A lot of kids don’t mind being the slowest runner or the least proficient ball dribbler or the least recognized mezzo soprano. Really. They don’t. It’s not the end of the world for them.
This book excerpt from retired Stanford dean Julie Lythcott-Haims talks about the fear element in parents. She describes how it gives rise to helicopter parenting, and how helicopter parenting slowly incapacitates our children. When we overprotect our children, we prevent them from learning how to stand on their own and how to take charge of their life.
2. Your child is feeling bad. This is an opportunity for you to provide some wise parenting
If you discover that your child truly feels inadequate about their abilities in a particular activity or sport, be a wise parent. Talk with your child about their feelings and discuss possible solutions.
When children lag in skill development, the activity often becomes less fun for them. Does your child want to get better in the activity? Or do they simply want to cut their losses, quit, and take up another activity instead? Sometimes it’s okay to quit.
If your child wants to get better, then discuss ways to get better. Sometimes the activity is poorly run or badly coached, so you need to find a new quality program.
Other times it means that your child simply needs to practice more, or practice with more diligence and intentionality. Kids are capable of learning all sorts of stuff if they try, but you need to cultivate a growth mindset in your child so they actually make the effort.
3. But the other kids are making fun of your child
If the other kids in the activity are making fun of your child, that’s a problem. In the immortal words of Jimi Hendrix, “that ain’t too cool”.
Is there a coach or a teacher or an instructor overseeing your child’s activity? Find a quiet moment outside the activity time to talk with the coach-teacher-instructor about the culture of the group.
If they have any skills as a leader, they should be able to set a better tone among the kids. And if they demonstrate that they are not able to do this, then they either suck as coaches and teachers, or they don’t actually care enough to create a good environment for all of the kids.
This is basically what happened on my eldest daughter’s basketball team years ago. We took her out of the program.
4. Wouldn’t it be better if every child and every person on earth could be exactly the same with the same degree of talent or lack of talent as everyone else around them, so everyone could feel at ease with themselves knowing that they are not any better or worse than anyone else?
Would the world be a better place without Albert Einstein, Amadeus Mozart, Maria Callas, Michael Jordan, Marie Curie, Meryl Streep, Pablo Picasso, Miles Davis, and Wayne Gretzky?
Genius is a beautiful thing. When we witness genius, we catch a glimpse of the potential of humanity. Framed the right way, it can inspire us to strive to be better.
Does it matter that some of us may never achieve that measure of brilliance in our respective fields? We can teach our kids to appreciate genius as part of the rich diversity of human experience. Sure, it might humble us to realize that we don’t possess the same genius—but a little humility can be a good life skill.
5. Remember to examine beliefs
If you worry that your kid is getting left behind, take time to examine the situation. Is there a real issue present? Or are you simply projecting your own fears? Deal with what’s real. And be confident that there are solutions available.
In reality, your kid doesn’t suck. They might need to develop some skills, or find better coaching, or discover an activity that they like more, but they don’t suck.